September 24, 2019 / 10:00 AM / a month ago

U.S. health officials to testify to Congress on vaping sickness

WASHINGTON, Sept 24 (Reuters) - Congress begins public hearings this week about a mystery vaping-related lung disease that has sickened hundreds of people across the United States and taken eight lives.

Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), will be asked by a House Oversight subcommittee Tuesday about the possible causes of the outbreak, what vaping products may have been implicated and what can be done about the disease that recently has sickened 530 people in 38 states. The parent of a recently stricken Chicago teen will also speak to lawmakers.

On Wednesday, the acting commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will appear before a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee and be asked about the public health threats of e-cigarettes.

U.S. officials are working to identify the cause of the outbreak of illness, but no single substance or compound, including tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the high-inducing component of marijuana, or Vitamin E acetate, has been linked to all of the cases so far.

Schuchat said last week that officials expect more deaths. The CDC, which has activated its emergency operations center to coordinate an investigation, has advised that people should quit vaping if they can.

For those who continue, public health officials urge consumers to avoid buying vaping products on the street, using marijuana-derived oil with the products or modifying a store-bought vape product.

The House Oversight Economic and Consumer Policy subcommittee’s probe began in the summer, and so far has focused on the role e-cigarette maker Juul Labs Inc played in what the panel’s chairman Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi has called the “youth vaping epidemic.”

“We need to know what’s happening to the people falling ill; we need to know how the youth vaping epidemic started; and we need to find out how we are going to stop both - that’s what this investigation is all about,” Krishnamoorthi told reporters.

In addition to Juul, in which Altria Group Inc has a minority stake, leading makers of nicotine e-cigarettes include British American Tobacco Plc and Imperial Brands Plc .

Along with Schuchat, the subcommittee will hear from Dr. Ngozi Ezike of the Illinois Department of Public Health and Dr. Albert Rizzo, the chief medical officer of the American Lung Association. Ruby Johnson, the parent of a Chicago teen who fell seriously ill after vaping, will also testify.

On Wednesday, health officials from Michigan, North Carolina, Kansas and Massachusetts will appear before the Energy and Commerce Health subcommittee along with Schuchat and the FDA’s Norman Sharpless.

The Food and Drug Administration has warned Juul that it violated regulations because it marketed its vaping products as less risky than traditional cigarettes.

The popularity of e-cigarettes has now grown to the point where one in four 12th-graders reported vaping a nicotine product during the previous 30 days. It is nearly 1 in 10 for 8th-graders, a study here by the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor reported last week.

Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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